UMDONI Municipality, which is part of Ugu district on the South Coast, might be struggling to serve the rural areas that make up 70 percent of its responsibility, but it is still managing to keep its finances in order.
The city manager puts it down to going back to basics – and a good filing system
Umdoni is one of five KwaZulu-Natal municipalities that have achieved a clean audit, and has been highly commended by the auditor-general.
Umdoni covers the coastal towns of Scottburgh and Park Rynie, the sugar farming town of Umzinto and the vast rural areas of Mahlongwa, eMalangeni and Mandawe.
With a population of 72 000, the council has a limited budget of R400 million to serve communities that range from rural and farming to town dwellers.
The council’s high rating has come earlier than expected. “We set our sights on the 2011/12 financial year to achieve this clean audit,” municipal manager Dhanpalan “DD” Naidoo said in an interview this week.
Naidoo, who has been the municipal manager since 2005, arrived when the municipality was given disclaimers (bad audits). In his first year the council was upgraded to a qualified audit. A string of unqualified audits followed until the clean audit in the 2010/11 financial year.
Naidoo said the municipality was not doing anything special, but had gone back to basics by ensuring the books were kept in order.
“We made sure everyone pulls in the right direction. It has been a team effort. However, it’s amazing that Umdoni can achieve a clean audit with minimum financial resources at our disposal,” he said.
Naidoo said that while he was ensuring the administration was doing things correctly, mayor Siyabonga Khwela was making sure that the executive committee and councillors exercised their duties and legislative role.
“We don’t claim to know it all. We get assistance from the Department of Co-operative Governance and the Treasury. The trick is to maintain a simple filing system, because the non-availability of documents becomes the first transgression. We have to do our own internal audit and this is often on top of the agenda in our weekly management meetings,” he said.
Naidoo said ensuring that the books were kept in order also allowed them to concentrate on performance management and channelling their energies to deliver services to the communities.
“Now our challenge lies in delivering services such as housing, electricity, water, sanitation and roads. We are proud to have used our entire allocated capital budget to meet these challenges. Imagine if we were to achieve a clean audit, but were found wanting on the delivery of services,” he said.
Khwela said while the municipality had done its bit to deliver services to the community, bulk capital projects such as water, electricity and sanitation remained the responsibility of the district municipality.
“That does not mean we shouldn’t take responsibility for those as a local municipality because we send two of our own councillors to sit on the district, but we are getting there,” he said.
Echoing Naidoo, Khwela said the local council could do more.
“Our road to this outcome has been one littered with challenges. We are proud (of our clean audit) and want to maintain this record and perhaps help others to do things properly,” he said.
Naidoo said they had adopted a strategy of running the municipality like a business to achieve profitability and sustainability.
For example, from savings derived from interest and VAT claims, the council has built a R13m multipurpose facility in Umzinto where it has already accommodated some provincial government departments.
“In this way, we are trying to generate profit beyond our rates base.
“We don't even have a loan that we service, but in this way we can start applying for one in the knowledge that we can service it through rent from this facility without losing any money. This is quite innovative,” said Naidoo.
While most of the rural areas lack services, almost the entire rural area is electrified, several district roads are under construction and water, although supplied sparingly, is nonetheless flowing.
“At the moment basic services are there, but we need jobs,” said Zodwa Gumede, a resident of Mahlongwa.
Nosiphiwe Mthethwa of Emalangeni said her only beef with the municipality was water shortages which were crippling her fledgling gardening projects.
“I do not think they are serious about water. When we tell them, they say we should go to Ugu district or Umgeni Water, but it’s their job to do so,” she said.
The other municipalities to move from no clean audits in the previous financial year to clean audits this year are Umzinyathi District Municipality (Greytown, Dundee and Nqutu), Richmond, eMadlangeni (Utrecht) and Umtshezi (Estcourt).
They are among the 13 in the country to receive clean audits and MEC Nomusa Dube said it was the first time any municipality in the province had achieved such a feat.
Auditor-General Terence Nombembe remarked: “This is an indication that clean audits are achievable with the leadership’s consistent commitment to taking ownership of municipal performance and insisting on adequately qualified staff and effective performance management practices.”